Breathing is one of the most natural aspects of living things.
Yet, are we doing it the right way?
It is normal for most people to breath 4-18 times a minute. However, breathing six times across one minute is a great way to relieve stress.
Quick tips for breathing the right way:
- You should breathe in deeply from your diaphragm.
- When you do this, your stomach should expand outward.
- Your exhale should be long and slow.
- This is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and reaching a state of relaxation.
Deep and Slow Breathing can stimulate the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It connects the brain to important organs in the body, including the intestines, stomach, heart, and lungs.
Vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which means that it is not under conscious control. It controls several aspects of the body when it is at rest.
Deep and slow breathing is a very good way to stimulate the vagus nerve.
It has been shown to reduce anxiety. It also influences your breathing, digestive function and heart rate- all of which have a huge impact on mental health.
Vagal tone reduces stress
Vagal tone refers to the activity of the vagus nerve.
Increasing the vagal tone in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Higher vagal tone ensures faster relaxation of the body.
Several studies have shown a positive association between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health.
The genetic link
Studies have even shown that vagal tone is passed on from the mother to her child. Mothers who are depressed, anxious and angry during their pregnancy have lower vagal activity.
This impacts the newborn who also has low vagal activity, low dopamine, and low serotonin levels.
Simple ways to stimulate your vagus nerve
The vagal tone is measured by tracking biological processes like heart rate, breathing rate, and heart rate variability (HRV).
When your heart rate variability (HRV) is high, your vagal tone is also high.
If your vagal tone is low you can increase it by taking small measures to stimulate your vagus nerve.
This will ensure an effective response to emotional and physiological symptoms of the brain and mental illness.
There is even an FDA-approved surgically-implanted device to periodically stimulate the vagus nerve for people with treatment-resistant depression.
Some methods to increase the vagal tone:
- Cold Exposure
- Singing, humming, chanting, and gargling
- Socializing and laughing
Deep Breathing can have anti-inflammatory effects
Proper breathing can increase the levels of adrenaline. Adrenaline has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Enhanced breathing also produces anti-inflammatory cytokines which keeps the immune system in balance.
It is reasonable to expect that people with rheumatic arthritis, atherosclerosis, Crohn’s disease, asthma may stand to benefit from improved breathing.
Deep breathing can act as a natural painkiller
When you take deep breaths, the body releases endorphins.
Endorphins are feel good hormones released by the body after intense exercise, sexual activity, and bouts of physical stress.
Endorphins reduce the pain associated with physical stress. Deep breathing produces endorphins thereby exerting a pain-relieving effect.
Improves blood flow
Deep breathing causes the upward and downward movement of the diaphragm which in-turn promotes better blood flow.
Rhythmic and controlled breathing regulates blood flow by regulating heart beat. This has a positive impact on blood pressure.
Increases energy level
Due to increased blood flow, there is more oxygen in the blood. Increased oxygen results in increased energy levels.
Every cell in the body depends on oxygen to convert the macronutrients to energy.
Improved supply of oxygen enhances this process leading to an overall improvement in energy, reduction in fatigue, and improved mental clarity and cognition.
Detoxification of the body
Carbon dioxide is a natural toxic waste that comes out from the body through breathing.
When the lungs are compromised by shallow breathing the other detoxification system starts working harder to expel this waste. This could make the body weak and lead to illness.
At the cellular level, oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged during respiration. Thus, better oxygen delivery is linked to better clearance of toxic by-products of respiration, leading to better detoxification.
Stimulates lymphatic system
As breathing is what moves the lymph, shallow breathing can lead to a slow lymphatic system which will not detoxify properly.
Deep breathing will help get the lymph flowing properly so that the body can work more efficiently.
Deep breathing provides more oxygen to all the body parts including the digestive system, making it work more efficiently.
The increased blood flow due to deep breathing also encourages intestinal action which further improves the overall digestion.
In addition, deep breathing results in a calmer nervous system, which in turn also enhances optimal digestion.
Breathing relaxes the mind and body
During emotions like anger or fear the muscles get tightened and breathing becomes shallow. At this time the body is not getting sufficient amount of oxygen.
Long, deep breathing reverses this process, allowing the body (and mind) to become calmer.